by Fox Doucette
Six-division world titlist Manny Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs), coming off an undisputed robbery at the hands of Timothy Bradley six months ago, steps into the ring for a fourth and presumably final time against Juan Manuel Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs), who has been more diligent in a possibly fruitless pursuit of revenge than anyone this side of Captain Ahab. The fight headlines a decent-quality quadruple-header on HBO pay-per-view on Saturday, December 8, from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
For Manny Pacquiao, his legacy and Hall of Fame case are already assured, as he has won titles from International Hall of Fame-recognized organizations in six weight classes, as follows:
Flyweight: WBC. Won from Chatchai Sasakul in 1998. One defense, lost title to Medgoen Singsurat, one of two men to stop Pacquiao in his career.
Junior Featherweight: IBF. Won from Lehlo Ledabwa in 2001, nearly lost in a unification fight against Agapito Sanchez (Pacquiao’s first draw, made possible by a clash of heads and by Sanchez losing two points for low blows.) Three defenses, vacated the title to move up and challenge Marquez in their first fight for Marquez’s featherweight title.
Junior Lightweight: WBC. Won from Juan Manuel Marquez in the two men’s second fight in 2008, a split decision that went Pacquiao’s way mainly due to Marquez hitting the floor in Round 3 (judge Tom Miller had it 114-113 to cast the deciding vote against dueling seven rounds to five scores from the other two judges.) Pacquiao did not defend this title, vacating it immediately to campaign at lightweight. Of note, Pacquiao had held the minor WBC International title at 130 pounds, defending it five times, including both of his wins in the trilogy with Erik Morales plus Pacquiao’s second battle with Marco Antonio Barrera.
Lightweight: WBC. Won from David Diaz in 2008. Pacquiao immediately vacated this title to move up to welterweight for a superfight with Oscar De La Hoya six months later.
Welterweight: WBO. Notable for being one of the few titles that Manny Pacquiao has bothered to establish himself as champion with rather than chasing weights up the scale. Won from Miguel Cotto in 2009, defended three times before the Bradley screwjob six months ago.
Junior Middleweight: WBC. Won from Antonio Margarito, who fought at a 150-pound catchweight.
Many of Pacquiao’s chroniclers list him as an “eight-division world champion”; this is, on its face, false, as Pacquiao’s fight with Ricky Hatton was for the unrecognized IBO junior welterweight title (only the WBC, WBO, WBA, and IBF are recognized by the Hall of Fame), and Pacquiao won no title fights in weight classes other than the ones listed. Let this officially set the record straight.
Speaking of questionable titles, the WBO, rather than strip Timothy Bradley despite their own five-member review panel unanimously awarding the fight to Pacquiao after the fact and making this bout for the thus-vacated (or remitted to the Filipino per his “rightful” place as champion) belt, has instead opted to create a special “Fighter of the Decade” belt to be awarded to the winner of this for-all-the-Tostitos pugilistic contest. This belt does not have a weight class assigned to it; the implication is that the WBO has, like football’s BCS, simply decided to reward a champion of champions, which surely must rile Wladimir Klitschko (who has won sixteen bouts in his career in which the WBO heavyweight championship was at stake) among others. We’re talking money here, not sense.
Juan Manuel Marquez, incidentally, is no slouch, and can easily be argued as the third-best fighter below 150 pounds of the past decade (behind Pacquiao and Mayweather). He has won titles at four weight levels (featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight, and, if the WBO’s shenanigans involving stripping Timothy Bradley and elevating Marquez above the “interim” status he won in his last fight are to be taken at face value, junior welterweight as well.) The WBO does currently list Juan Manuel Marquez as its full world champion at 140 pounds.
All that aside, however, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have so far delivered thirty-six rounds of boxing that rank among the all-time great fight series in the history of the Queensberry rules. If the fourth fight delivers similar levels of excitement, the series may join all-time great matchups like LaMotta-Robinson, Ali-Frazier, Ward-Gatti, and Marquez-Vazquez and stand proudly among the reasons that it would be a good and wonderful thing for boxing if the Filipino and the Mexican retired in the same year so they could enter the Hall of Fame together in Canastota.
Of course, the two men in the main event are not the only fighters on the card this Saturday; let’s break down all four of the televised fights, including one legitimate world title contest:
Yuriorkis Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs) vs. Michael Farenas (34-3-4, 26 KOs), interim WBA jr. lightweight title
Of the recent batch of Cuban amateurs to defect stateside and go pro, and with apologies to Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yuriorkis Gamboa has to date had the most accomplished career, making a legitimate case for himself on the fringes of the Top 10 pound-for-pound rankings. At featherweight, where Gamboa went 5-0 in title fights, there was a convincing argument that he was the division’s true kingpin.
This fight is at 130 pounds, and Gamboa has arguably as much of a claim to dominance at this weight as any fighter making the move up in weight should. In May of 2008, Gamboa fought Darling Jimenez to a unanimous decision win, earning the WBC International belt, which had just been vacated by none other than Manny Pacquiao. Returning to 130 and testing the waters at a 127-pound contract weight in his last fight with Daniel Ponce de Leon (a fight in which Ponce de Leon sustained as nasty a cut from a clash as has existed in the annals of the sport), Gamboa looks as strong now as he did four years ago, when he was fighting perhaps above his best weight at the time.
Michael Farenas, for his part, makes an ideal patsy for Gamboa to capture a trinket. Three losses, all to mediocre or worse competition, and four draws, three of them related to accidental clashes of heads, along with a no-contest due to that same accidental foul, suggest that two things will happen in this fight: Yuriorkis Gamboa will out-box Michael Farenas, and there will be blood.
Don’t get too emotionally invested in the ebb and flow of this one. Watch the same sort of thing you get from boxing as viewers of nature shows get from two male bighorns doing the sorts of acts that would get them fined by Roger Goodell if they engaged in the behavior against a different sort of Rams. Gamboa would do well to bank rounds early, because this one is very likely to go to the cards before the distance.
Miguel Vazquez (32-3, 13 KOs) vs. Mercito Gesta (26-0-1, 14 KOs), IBF lightweight title
With Juan Manuel Marquez campaigning at 140 pounds when he is not chasing his white (OK, Pacific Islander) whale, and with Brandon Rios abandoning the fiction that he can make weight at 135, it might not be overstating the point to say this fight is to decide the very best 135-pounder currently fighting. Adrien Broner has a claim on that same distinction, but Vazquez has been plying his trade as a full lightweight for far longer than the kid from Cincinnati has been at the weight, reigning as IBF champion since 2010 and defending the belt four times.
Vazquez, for all that however, has fought more schmucks and who-dats than real contenders, showing the same indifference the IBF displays to title challengers as that sanctioning body is known for perpetuating 33 pounds up the scale (see Bute, Lucian.) Interestingly, two of Vazquez’s three losses came well above the lightweight limit against none other than Saul “El Canelo” Alvarez in Mexico. The third, a junior welterweight tilt, came against Timothy Bradley. When Vazquez has weighed in at 137 pounds or below, he is 9-0, albeit with almost no power (three knockouts, all against certified tomato cans.)
Mercito Gesta is not Ammeth Diaz or Daniel Attah or even Marvin Quintero (Vazquez’s last opponent, who snookered Don Ackerman into making the fight a split decision rather than a unanimous one for Vazquez). Gesta may not be Manny Pacquiao in terms of quality of fighters from the Philippines (his last fight, four months ago, was an unimpressive ninth-round TKO of designated slappy Ty Barnett, who had twice been stopped in much earlier rounds by much less pedigreed fighters, and that was actually a significant step up in opposition for Gesta), but he is undefeated in 27 pro fights and has only one win over a Glass Joe-quality fighter (Leo Escobido, who took a 6-23-3 record into his clash with Gesta before dropping a technical decision in seven rounds. Escobido has been stopped a total of ten times, interestingly enough including the same Medgoen Singsurat who knocked out Manny Pacquiao.)
So what we have here is…well, what we have here is the same scenario Austin Trout faced just last week when he took on Miguel Cotto and emerged victorious. Will Mercito Gesta follow in Trout’s footsteps and announce his presence at his weight while beating a guy who on paper should be able to mop the floor with him but for the miles on his odometer? Miguel Vazquez is only 25 years old, but 227 rounds of boxing and six 12-round decision wars in his career speak to his being an old 25, especially when contrasted against Gesta’s 142 rounds on his odometer.
Had Trout-Cotto not happened last week, the predictive indicators would nonetheless point to Miguel Vazquez, and order has a habit of being restored by the gods after a feel-good story. Mercito Gesta has to be seen as the underdog here.
Javier Fortuna (20-0, 15 KOs) vs. Patrick Hyland (27-0, 12 KOs), WBA interim featherweight title
Your columnist, in advance of a first date, has a disclaimer provided to women: “Start talking about Jersey Shore and I’ll suddenly remember I left the oven on.” Sadly, no such escape valve is available when discussing Patrick Hyland, who is managed by one Nicole Polizzi, best known to gawkers at televised train wrecks as “Snooki” on the program in question.
This is not a knock on Hyland himself; man’s gotta eat. And whatever else may be said about Ms. Polizzi, she and her team have done a splendid job of introducing the Irish fighter to American audiences, bringing him from the Emerald Isle hobo circuit across the pond against three good-but-not-great opponents (Emmanuel Lucero, Frankie Archuleta, and Carlos Fulgencio) to cut his teeth. Not bad for a guy who has on his record two guys with records of 2-66-3 (Imrich Parlagi) and 31-206-10 (Peter Buckley), neither of whom Hyland was able to stop given twelve minutes to do so (Parlagi retired with 27 stoppage losses after his fight with Hyland, while Buckley retired after winning a fight with Matin Mohammed on Halloween 2008, after an 0-86-2 streak over five years. As George Carlin famously quipped, “how come none of these boxers ever have losing records?”)
Javier Fortuna is not Peter Buckley. He does not have Imrich Parlagi’s chin. More to the point, he is a vastly better fighter than anyone Patrick Hyland has met across a boxing ring from him. Fortuna made a fine argument for ESPN2 Fighter of the Year by cleaning the clocks of Yaundale Evans (in the first round in April) and Cristobal Cruz (second round, July). Fortuna also owns a win over Miguel Roman, who at one point held the twice-aforementioned WBC International belt at 130 pounds once owned by Manny Pacquiao and Yuriorkis Gamboa (as well as Erik Morales.) It’s a trinket, but it’s a trinket with a lineage.
The question here is not about Javier Fortuna. Fortuna’s chops are well-established; he’s a Dominican ass-kicker who seems perpetually out of bubble gum. The question is about Patrick Hyland; is he a contender ready to step up or is he “that guy who beat the dude with 200 losses”? This fight is intriguing for just that reason. Records often lie; punches never do. Given Fortuna’s penchant for spectacular theatrics early in a fight, best to grab the beer before the bell rings to start the first round. You might miss the knockout punch if you go to the fridge.
Manny Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs), welterweights
Much ado was made in this feature’s intro about Manny Pacquiao’s professional resumé, but this does not answer the question of who’s going to win this fight. Pacquiao has always struggled against counter punchers, and had Nacho Beristain not put Marquez in the prevent defense in their last fight, it is entirely possible that the Mexican could have stolen a decision win.
Styles make fights. No discussion of Manny Pacquiao is complete without speculation as to the real reason why he refuses to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., and it may simply be a matter of style; Manny Pacquiao has a bad habit of walking into counter punches.
There is also a question of Juan Manuel Marquez’s motivation. Say what you will about the phony “Fighter of the Decade” title that is on the line here (and again, consider that the WBO’s fighter of the decade is, without question, Wladimir Klitschko), but for a guy like Marquez, who has a convincing case that he has won at least two if not all three of the previous fights with the Philippines’ favorite sporting son, the desire has to be there to beat the living snot out of Pacquiao and knock him out to ensure that the judges do not get an opportunity to screw him a fourth time.
Freddie Roach accused Marquez of using performance-enhancing drugs (just whose urine does Roach suppose Marquez is drinking? His own or Lamont Peterson’s?) Leaving aside that speculative and potentially slanderous allegation, it may simply be that Marquez has looked so good in training that he is a man who will be looking with malice aforethought to knock his opponent’s damn fool head off not as a sporting gesture but as a genuine expression of extreme dislike.
To say that Juan Manuel Marquez hates Manny Pacquiao is to put words in his mouth, but why take this fourth fight otherwise? It can’t be about dinero; Marquez has enough of that not to need to prostitute himself for a screwjob again. Nay, it would seem that like Ahab in Moby Dick or Captain Picard putting the phaser to the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact, Marquez wants to possibly end his career on the ultimate high note.
Styles make fights. Manny Pacquiao cannot handle a determined counter puncher. Juan Manuel Marquez is the best counter puncher not named Floyd Mayweather fighting today. Marquez will be putting Chinese mustard on his shots in an effort to knock out a man who has kept him from ultimate glory in his era. The WBO has put a belt out there effectively proclaiming for the gullible ultimate glory in this era. You see where Pacquiao, who is famous (or infamous) for his distractions, is at a disadvantage.
You heard it here first. After nine hard-fought, back-and-forth rounds, Pacquiao gets walked into a counter left hook and lands on his duff, not to rise for more than ten seconds’ counting. Marquez, KO10.
Pacquiao-Marquez IV is available in the United States on HBO pay-per-view, in the UK on Primetime, and in Australia on Main Event. Call your local cable or satellite provider for ordering information, pricing, and broadcast time. The Boxing Tribune will have full coverage before and after the fight; stay tuned.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and more hate mail from Pacland can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.